Historical document connected with freedom struggle Jallianwala Bagh

Dependents of massacre victims compensated to the tune of Rs. 22,66,000

A fact not yet a public knowledge

Dr A K Biswas

Jallianwala Bagh massacre was committed on 13 April, 1919 when people had gathered to celebrate Baisakhi at Amritsar, Panjab. This article pays homage to the innocent men, women and children who gathered there and unsuspectedly fell victims to brutal firings of the colonial authorities.

That the colonial rulers had awarded as
compensation a sum of Rs. 22,66,732 for the savagery inflicted upon a peaceful
assembly of men, women and children—Sikh, Hindu and Muslim—, who, a century
ago, had congregated to celebrate the auspicious Baisakhi, a Sikh festival on
April 13, 1919 at Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar in Panjab is not yet a general
knowledge.  About six decades ago, a book written by an Indian and
published in [1960] England disclosed that “The relations of the victims of the
tragedy were amply compensated.” [1] The
words “amply compensated” are noteworthy.

The massacre at Amritsar had so shocked and
traumatized poet Rabindra Nath Tagore at Calcutta, that “giving voice to the
protest of the millions of my countrymen, surprised into a dumb anguish of
terror” he renounced, on May 30, the Knighthood, which in 1915 the King George
V had conferred on him. He was also the only Indian to do so for “my
countrymen.” Ventilating his strong abomination, he wrote that “The time has
come when badges of honour make our shame glaring in the incongruous context of
humiliation, and I for my part wish to stand, shorn of all special
distinctions, by the side of those of my countrymen, who, for their so-called
insignificance, are liable to suffer degradation not fit for human beings.” The
people of Panjab, note the words, comprising Sikh, Hindu and Muslim were “my
countrymen” whose inhuman sufferings emotionally mortified the first Asian
Noble laureate so as to renounce the high Imperial honour. This act on his
part, many of his well-wishers had genuinely apprehended, had exposed the poet
to the charge of disloyalty and sedition and thereby liable for prosecution in
accordance with extant law for punishment. Competitive exhibition of loyalty
among privileged Indians for the Empire was very common. The British
authorities did not, however, stifle his freedom of expression for most
dignified condemnation of the barbarism in Jallianwala Bagh which kindled his
deepest sensibility and justifiable anger.  The Manchester Guardian,
having regard for the intense reaction the massacre of innocent people created,
had commented that “if we do not act now, then we are a disgraced
people.” [2]

According to Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis,
statistician and founder of Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta the poet had
sent Charles Freer Andrews to Gandhiji with a proposal, that he would accompany
him and enter Punjab. And if both were arrested by the authorities, it would
amount to their protest. Mahalanobis was very close to the poet. Gandhiji,
however, did not support his gurudev’s idea. [3]

An Inquiry Committee was appointed which included
three prominent Indians, with Sir Hunter as chairman to investigate the
massacre of innocent civilians. The Indians included in the Hunter Committee were
Sir Chimanlal Harilal Setalvad, Vice-Chancellor of Bombay University and
advocate of the Bombay High Court; Pandit Jagat Narayan, lawyer and Member of
the Legislative Council of the United Provinces; and Sardar Sahibzada Sultan
Ahmad Khan, lawyer from Gwalior State besides British officials.

The Government had awarded as compensation a sum of
Rs. 22,66,732 for victims and survivors of Jallianwala Bagh massacre.  Is this a fact? If so, why did intellectual
class shy away from documenting this fact in history of freedom struggles? Or
is this a claim without any leg to stand? We probe in a small compass this
issue in the following narrative.

The savagery at Amritsar had so shocked and
traumatized poet Rabindra Nath Tagore at Calcutta, that “giving voice to the
protest of the millions of my countrymen, surprised into a dumb anguish of
terror” he renounced, on May 30, 1919 the Knighthood, which the King George V
had conferred on him. Tagore was also the only Indian to rise up to the
occasion for “my countrymen” regardless of consequences of his action.  While  exhibiting his strong feeling of
abomination, he also wrote that “The time has come when badges of honour make
our shame glaring in the incongruous context of humiliation, and I for my part
wish to stand, shorn of all special distinctions, by the side of those of my
countrymen, who, for their so-called insignificance, are liable to suffer
degradation not fit for human beings.” The people of Panjab, note the words, comprising
Sikh, Hindu and Muslim were “my countrymen” whose sufferings emotionally
mortified the first Asian Noble laureate so as to renounce the high imperial
honour of the Empire. This act on his part, many apprehended, had exposed the
poet to the charge of sedition and thereby prosecution in accordance with
extant law in place for punishment. But the British authorities did not,
however, stifle his freedom of expression for most dignified condemnation of
the barbarism in Jallianwala Bagh which kindled his deepest sensibility and
justifiable rebuke.

Rabindra Nath renounced the badge of honour 40 days
after the massacre Brigade General Reginald Dyer inflicted on the people of
Panjab. Martial Law was clamped on most of Panjab with gagging of the press
accompanied by other restrictions on civil liberties. ‘Gagged silence,’ to use
words of the letter in question, crippled communication, dissemination and
publication of information. The Rowlatt Act, an extension of the Defence of
India Act 1915, was known to the Indians as a Black Act. This unpopular
legislation armed the colonial authorities with stricter control of the press,
arrests without warrant, indefinite detention without trial, and juryless in
camera
 trials for proscribed political acts. The accused were denied
the right to know the accusers and the evidence used in the trial. Rowlatt Act
truly was draconian in character.

India in general and Panjab in particular was
seething with anger and protested against this law. A military picket in Panjab
shot at a crowd, killing several protesters and setting off a series of violent
events. The popular feelings were inflamed by these measures.  Riotous
crowds carried out arson, attacks on British banks, killed several British
people and assaulted two British females. [4] Railways
and telecommunications also were targets of public anger.  

The case of Miss Marcella Sherwood appalled and
aggravated the sentiments of the colonial authorities no end. On April 11, an
English missionary, Marcella, fearing for the safety of her pupils risked to
cycle down to shut her schools and send some 600 Indian children home. While
cycling through a narrow street called the Kucha Kurrichhan, she was ambushed
by a mob, pulled to the ground by her hair, stripped naked, beaten, kicked, and
left for dead. She was, however, rescued by some local Indians, including the
father of one of her pupils, who hid her from the mob and then smuggled her to
the safety of Gobindgarh fort. [5]
Despite grim situation, the spirit of humanism was in evidence on both sides.  

Tagore devoted almost the whole night (May 29-30,
1919) restlessly without a wink of sleep in drafting this historic 413-word
letter to the Viceroy of India, Lord Chelmsford (12 August 1868 –1 April 1933).
In compliance to orders of General Reginald
Dyer
, a party of ninety soldiers comprising the Sikh, Gurkha,
Baluchi and Rajput from the 2nd/9th
Gurkha Rifles
, the 54th Sikhs and the 59th Sind Rifles executed the massacre. They
were armed with .303 Lee–Enfield bolt-action rifles. Besides,
two armoured cars equipped with machine guns were positioned outside the gate
of the venue, whose  but narrow entrance
to the Bagh (2.8 hectare in area), walled on all sides, though had five
entrances, defied and frustrated his attempts to drive them in advance.

By mid-afternoon of April 13, thousands of Sikhs,
Muslims and Hindus had gathered there. Facts bear mention that pilgrims apart,
Amritsar was teeming with farmers, traders and merchants attending the annual
Baisakhi horse and cattle fair over the preceding days.  On the fateful
day, Dyer arranged an aeroplane to overfly Jallianwala Bagh for an estimate of
the crowd, which reportedly were about 6,000, while the Hunter
Committee 
estimated the crowd to be 10,000 to 20,000 persons
when  Dyer  arrived on the scene at 16:30 with his force. Without
warning the crowd to disperse, Dyer blocked the main exits. He stated later
that this objective “was not to disperse the meeting but to punish the Indians
for disobedience,” wrote Nigel Collett, himself a former Lieutenant
Colonel. [6]Firing
of approximately 1,650 rounds on the unarmed crowd resulted in 389 deaths and
injuries to 1000 persons.

Part II

Compensation for the victims or their
dependents!

The knowledge about recorded fact involving payment
of compensation, noted already, to the descendants of victims and suffers of
Jallianwala Bagh tragedy, surprisingly, is yet to percolate down to the masses.
 The Punjab Government had set up a Compensation Committee to determine
the quantum of compensation. But was the compensation “ample” at all, if paid, as
claimed by R P Masani?

Punjab State Archives file # 139 Home/Military of
the Punjab Government Civil Secretariat examined the proposal for compensation
payable to the dependents of those killed and/or wounded in the firing on April
13, 1919 at Amritsar. [7] Compensation
was sanctioned for distribution to the survivors or the dependents of the victims
under three broad heads, e. g., (1) killed; (2) wounded; and (3) property
looted or damaged. In the event of victim being killed his dependent was paid
the compensation. The Compensation Committee seems to have made reasonable
efforts to hear the claimants in determining the quantum of compensation.

Records of the then British Punjab Government
recently digitized by a Non-Governmental Organization – Punjab Digital Library,
led by mathematician turned historian Davinder Pal Singh revealed that a sum of
Rs. 17,33,453, as compensation, for persons killed was sanctioned; besides Rs.
4,64,066 was sanctioned for persons wounded and Rs. 74,202 was earmarked for
properties damaged or looted. A confidential letter no. 29249 of December 20,
1920 from the District Officer to the Commissioner, Lahore Division concerns a
statement regarding the number of persons killed and wounded in the firing.
Table-1 below shows the places of firing along with total deaths; wounded and
the amount of compensation proposed for payment.

Table-1[8]

Showing a statement of place firing, persons killed,

and compensation proposed for payment

Place Number of persons Compensation proposed
1. Jallianwala Bagh
 
2. Railway Bridge,
Amritsar
 
3. Lahore City
 
4. Kasur
 
 
 
5. Gujranwala
 
6. Other places
Killed
                       218
Wounded             
348
Killed                      
2
Wounded           
     4
Killed      
               3
Wounded              
11
Killed   
                  4
Wounded              
 1
 
Killed              
     11
Wounded             
31
Killed 
                   2
Wounded             
 9
 
Rs.     15,96,158
Rs.    
 3,60,763
Rs.   
      27,411
Rs.         
12,340
Rs.        
21,334
Rs.
        20,415
Rs.        
10,961
Rs.         
9,060
 
Rs.   
   78,076
Rs.      
61,800
Rs.      
  7,764
Rs.        
4,200

The money for payment of compensation was drawn
from three treasuries of the Punjab Government. The details of fund by treasury
are shown at table-2.

Table-2 [9]

Showing a statement of fund drawn from treasuries

Name of Treasury
 
Amritsar
Gujranwala
Lahore
Amount Drawn
 
12,50,000
1,58,770
1,26,268
Amount distributed
 
11,44,504
1,58,713
1,12,776
Total 15,26,678 14,35,387

As per table-2, a total sum of Rs. 15,26,678—Rs.
12,50,000 was drawn from Amritsar treasury; Rs. 1,58,770 from Gujranwala and
Rs. 1,26,268 from Lahore. This suggests that these three places were involved
in the tragedy.

A total sum of Rs. 14,35,387 was distributed among
the victim and/or their dependents. A sum of Rs. 1,08,291 could not be
distributed for various reasons. But later the same amount was proposed for
distribution without surrendering to the treasury.

Families of dependents compensated,
Some illustration

A widow Jainti, wife of Gulab, Katra Ram, a weaver
of Garhian, Amritsar merits attention. Her name occupies at serial one of those
compensated for damage and/or destruction of property. She claimed a sum of Rs.
100 to compensate her losses. The record shows the reason: “Two calves” of this
widow were “killed at Jallianwala Bagh while grazing.” The Compensation
Committee recommended payment of “Rs. 50.” [10] The
weaver’s widow occupied serial no. 1 at page 2 in the file of the cases
considered for compensation. This is the precise reason to catch anybody’s attention.
A lowly man or a woman is unfortunate person also in this country. In a
situation as this, claims of them is either overlooked, dismissed or ignored.
In the list of priorities such claimant come usually in the tail end per se.
Independent India’s poor and unfortunate victims of recent natural tragedies
are numberless to prove the veracity of such assertion.

Naked discrimination in relief and rehabilitation
of victims of earthquakes in Gujarat in 2002, of Tsunami of Tamilnadu in 2005
and of floods of Kosi in North Bihar in 2002 is undisputed truth.

One Pritam Singh who had lost his bicycle and was
recommended compensation of Rs. 100. A Ramgarhia by caste at (sl. 9), according
to the case record, he was shown to be “in care of High Highness of Maharaja of
Nabha, Amritsar.” The victims included Arora, Brahman, Jat, Khatri, etc. and
were compensated.

Muhammad Din, 22 years old, a weaver and silk
cleaner whose left arm was permanently disabled was awarded Rs 4,126 as
compensation. A 19 years old butcher was awarded just Rs 170 as he had a petty
bullet wound. However, Milkhi Ram, 33 years old, a goldsmith whose arm was
permanently disabled was awarded a hefty sum of Rs 22,823 as compensation to
make up for loss of livelihood and his expertise. [11]

The scale of compensation for payment to victims,
it becomes clear from the above, was determined having regard for the economic
status and/or skill and earning capacity of the victim. Lakshim Chand, a
businessman, illustrates the point. “He was awarded Rs 60,000 after his leg was
amputated.” The Government  Compensation Committee justified their
recommendation with this logic:  “He was a very rich man with an income of
Rs 11,500 a year, thereby able to enjoy life to the full and prevented by his
injury still more from enjoying life fully in future than he was from earning
as full an income as he had done in the past.” [12]
If a man was “very rich” with an annual income of Rs. 11½k annually, a sum of Rs.
50 as compensation for two calves to the weaver’s widow might be unhesitatingly
considered “ample.”   

Pehlo Ram, Brahman, son of Rama, of Tehsil Una in
the District Hoshiarpur, lost his son Munshi Ram. The Deputy Commissioner
observed thus: “Being a resident of a village, was unable to report the matter
to the authorities in time and was unaware of the proceedings of the
Compensation Committee. Reported the death in Una Thana.”

Compensation declined

Three individuals declined to accept compensation
to the tune of Rs. 3,883, though sanctioned. One of them refused to receive Rs.
70; the second, Rs. 100 and the third Rs. 3,683.

A sum of Rs. 56,227 anna 13 and paise 6 could not
be paid as the claimants absented to receive compensation.

Two absentees could not be distributed
compensation—one went to Burma. He was sanctioned Rs. 4,181; and the other, who
was to receive Rs. 360, went to Reformatory School.

There were several persons, who did not appear
before the Compensation Committee to orally substantiate their claims during
inquiry. Hukam Devi lost her son Jawar Singh, in firing at Jallianwala
Bagh.  Illiteracy was the reason why she did not appear before the
Compensation Committee. The District Officer noted the reason as: “Hukam Devi,
wife Bhai Pratap Singh, Lahori Gate, Kuchha Darbara Singh, Amritsar. Received a
Post Card from the Compensation Committee and the husband being away on a water
mill service since more than a year, she got it read by a boy who informed that
it was something about the death of her son. She then put the card in the box.
Again, she was asked to attend on 15th October 1921,
but she remained quite unaware about what should be done and did not attend.
She is and was destitute and has lost both her, one in Jallianwala and the
other, a month later by disease.”

Jan Muhammad, Nijran, Amritsar Bagh, a pensioner
lost his son Yar Muhammad in Jallianawala Bagh firing. But his death was
concealed for hardship of the Martial law then in force. The victim Yar
Muhammad was the only supporter of the family of twelve persons. [13]

Isn’t it time to take these facts on record and
documented in history?

The writer Dr A
K Biswas,
a retired IAS officer and former Vice-Chancellor, B R
Ambedkar University, Muzaffarpur, can be reached at [email protected]

[1] Britain in India by R P. Masani,
OUP, 1960, p. 119. This writer is grateful to Prof. Bhaskar Sur, an independent
researcher & human rights activist who recently brought this fact to my
knowledge.

[2] Subrata Mukherjee, Knighthood
renounced in The Statesman, New Delhi, June 10, 2019.

[3] Mahasweta Das, Tagore’s
renunciation of knighthood, The poet’s protest against Jallianwala Bagh
massacre,     
May 8, 2019, Media India Group,
 https://mediaindia.eu/art-culture/tagores-renunciation-of-knighthood/

[4]   Stanley
Wolpert
“The Postwar Years”, India,
Encyclopedia Britannica. 
Gobindgarh fort, incidentally, is a historic
fort, now converted to a museum, located in the centre of Amritsar city.

[5 Collett, Nigel
(2006). The Butcher of Amritsar: General Reginald Dyer. Hambledon
Continuum: New Edition. p. 234

[6] Collett, Nigel (2006). The
Butcher of Amritsar: General Reginald Dyer
. Hambledon Continuum: New
Edition. p. 254-255.

[7] CNN-News 18 July 2017, 11.33am
IST under caption “Records show how British Government compensated Jallianwala
Bagh victims based on income” referred to Punjab State Archives file # 139
Home/Military of the Punjab Government Civil Secretariat examined the proposal
for payment of compensation.

https://www.news18.com/news/india/98-years-on-records-reveal-how-british-compensated-jallianwala-bagh-victims-1455823.html

[8] Punjab State Archives file # 139
Home/Military of the Punjab Government Civil Secretariat examined the proposal
for payment of compensation reported by CNN-News 18 July 2017.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Punjab State
Archives file # 139 Home/Military of the Punjab Government Civil Secretariat
examined the proposal for payment of compensation reported in CNN-News 18 July
2017.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

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